Opinion

Don’t wait to up your game on quality

21 June 2019 | By Mark Beard

The government may have launched a consultation on its proposed changes to regulations in the wake of the Hackitt review, but contractors shouldn’t sit by and wait to be told to improve quality, argues Mark Beard.

Mark Beard

Last month, the government announced that  it was launching a consultation, promising “a radically new building and fire safety system”. It is likely to place more responsibility and accountability on designers and constructors to manage building safety risks thoroughly.

As Dame Judith Hackitt identified in her independent review on Building Regulations and fire safety, quality is key to managing risk and sadly it’s an area where too many construction firms have been failing.

But do we really need to wait for the government to tell us what to do? Alternatively, we can identify within our own practices, teams and organisations areas where we can improve on and get on and do it.

For the more enlightened contractors, quality has always been high up the agenda, in part because delivering quality is very closely linked to one’s reputation. Since Grenfell there has been a renewed focus on quality, particularly when it comes to the external envelope and fire escape routes because of the public health issues around them.

In my view, the issue of quality is rising up the agenda in boardrooms and general dialogue within construction organisations. This is extremely pleasing.

Rising insurance premiums

However, the construction industry needs to make more progress on quality, more quickly. There are some key questions contractors should be asking themselves.

First, what are the key drivers of quality? As a response to growing insurance claims, all insurance companies are taking a far greater interest in contractors’ approach to quality. Rapidly increasing professional indemnity insurance premiums will reinforce the need to improve quality. We are seeing significantly more challenging questions from our insurance brokers regarding our approach to quality, which we welcome.

“One of the things we have done at Beard is to introduce monthly quality and safety visits around our sites for directors and senior managers.”

Second, ask yourself if you have sufficient time and money to do what you have committed to do. Also, do you have all the resources you need to fulfil your commitments? The temptation is to overtrade in our industry, which produces a good level of short-term positive cashflow, but can produce long term problems. If the answer is “no”, then being able to walk away from a prospective job and admit that it is outside your skillset is crucial.

Finally, do you have the information you need to build to – is it coordinated? As an industry, we are too accepting of a poor starting point in terms of information on what the customer wants. We are too accepting of design change and too accepting of handing over a substantially rather than fully completed product.

Building in quality assurance

At Beard, we still have too many snags at practical completion. We want to hand over a building that we are proud of and that the customer enjoys. If there is something that detracts from our customer’s ability to enjoy their new building, then it is a concern to us.

To help us resolve this challenge, we have engaged a full-time quality assurance manager. Her first task has been to review and simplify procedures and processes to make sure that we do what we say we are going to do. We have a real focus on check and inspection plans for key elements of the building. We have taken the view that in addition to fire protection, a key area is around water. That means making sure roofs, cavity trays and drainage are built absolutely to specification.

We need to bring a culture of quality to our industry in the same way as we have safety. One of the additional things that we have done at Beard, for example, is to introduce monthly quality and safety visits around our sites for directors and senior managers.

In our view, quality and safety are closely linked; a well-organised site is not only safe, it gives the craftsmen an opportunity to produce a quality product.

Mark Beard is executive chairman of Beard Construction and CIOB vice president

Comments

Quality is only one aspect of the problem, you can't stop there

Sheila, 25 June 2019

A great topic and very much need as quality is sadly lacking these days due to cuts to middle management (lack of supervision) and the absence of apprentice time served tradesmen. In making improvements, for ,me its important that this doesn't simply focus on admin tasks to check processes etc, as I think that misses the point. Quality should really be built in at source, by proper competent resource (not cowboys) and where anomalies occur the supervision should be of such vigilance that any defects are caught early and rectified. All too often these days contractors turn out shoddy work because they are chasing programme and then they seek to hide / defend defects as they don't want to expend time and money to put them right. Until these matters are rectified with fully trained competent personnel and correct levels of Supervision, we'll keep getting shoddy work. The like of which I have to witness and debate on every single project.

Dale Hughes, 25 June 2019

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